Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kane's Introduction (Chapter 1.1)

Robert Kane is a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Texas. He's published important books and articles about philosophy and is considered to be one of the foremost defenders of the philosophy of free will. One of his latest books is the one I've chosen to use as the beginning point of my systematic study of the free will vs determinism issue. This book is titled A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. It was published by the Oxford University Press in 2005 and has received much acclaim by academics and readers.

The Times Literary Supplement says: "Any educated person willing to make the effort can now read Kane's inclusive, careful and accessible book and know that he or she is familiar with the free-will problem and with the current state of human understanding of it. . . .A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will will replace all other introductions to the subject."

Michael McKenna of Ithaca College writes: "This book, by far, stands alone as the best book to introduce this topic to the introductory philosophy student. It is stellar. . . . Kane is a master at capturing the kernel of even the most challenging and intricate issues in the free will debate, showing their structures and displaying an underlying simplicity."

And an Amazon reader says: "Robert Kane's "Contemporary Introduction to Free Will" is hands down the finest text in its class. Professors who wish to include a component on free will in their introductory courses, or who are looking for a scholarly and accessible text for a class on free will and related issues, will find in Kane's text a thoughtful, subtle, and above all lucid and authoritative presentation of the problem of freedom in its many dimensions, as well as a charitable and well-informed assessment of historical and contemporary stances on the problem of free will."

Kane begins his masterwork by quoting the great Sufi poet Rumi: "There is a disputation that will continue till mankind is raised from the dead, between the necessitarians and the partisans of free will." Kane then proceeds to describe a conundrum presented by John Milton's classic Paradise Lost:

John Milton describes the angels debating how some of them could have sinned of their own free wills given that God made them intelligent and happy. Why would they have done it? And why were they responsible for their sins rather than God, since God had made them the way they were and had complete foreknowledge of what they would do? While puzzling over such questions even the angels, according to Milton, were "in Endless Mazes lost" (not a comforting thought for us humans).

Kane writes that when we study the free will vs determinism issue, we are prompted to learn relevant information in many philosophical, scientific, legal, and other disciplines and to consider pertinent notions and issues within those disciplines.

He begins by examining the notion of "freedom." What is freedom, and what does it have to do with free will? We will consider Kane's analysis of freedom in my next entry.

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